Japan's embattled finance minister mulling skipping G20 gathering

SHINZO ABE TARO ASO JAPAN PARLIAMENT SCANDAL REUTERS

Among the names removed from the documents was that of Akie Abe, the prime minister's wife, according to several Japanese media outlets.

One such reference was to Ms Akie's visit to the school at the heart of the suspected scandal.

The prime minister had previously said he would resign if he or his wife were shown to be involved in heavily cutting the price of public land sold to a right-wing school operator in Osaka.

The issue a year ago sharply eroded Mr Abe's popularity.

The ruling bloc of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito party is hoping to end confusion in the Diet and start deliberations.

LDP parliamentary affairs official Hiroshi Moriyama told reporters on Monday that he had been briefed by finance ministry officials that documents related to the land sale had been altered but did not comment on the content.

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A relief rally swept across Asian share markets on Monday after the latest United States jobs report managed to impress with its strength while also easing fears of inflation and faster rate hikes, a neat feat that whetted risk appetites globally. Also removed was a reference to ties by Abe and Aso to a conservative lobby group, Nippon Kaigi.

"I'd like to ask everyone at the Finance Ministry to seriously reflect on this issue and get to the bottom of it", Noda said. "What became clear is that they debased democracy", by lying to parliament, said opposition lawmaker Renho, who uses one name.

The altering of the documents "was purposely meant to deceive the Japanese people", said the party's leader Yukio Edano, adding that democracy is being threatened. Yasunori Kagoike, then head of Moritomo Gakuen, purchased the land to build an elementary school where Abe's wife briefly served as honorary principal. A kindergarten run by Mr Gakuen taught a nationalist curriculum in line with views espoused by Nippon Kaigi.

The risk for Aso and Abe, experts said, is that the suspected cover-up does more damage than the land sale itself.

The backing of Mr Aso, 77, who doubles as deputy premier, is vital to Mr Abe's bid for a third term and a key factor in the stability of his administration.

"At the very least, it seems that Aso's chances of surviving as finance minister are diminishing rapidly", wrote Tobias Harris, vice-president of consultancy Teneo Intelligence, in an email.

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"I am not thinking about that at all", he said, adding he did not believe the alterations were meant to protect Abe and his wife.

On Friday, National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa abruptly resigned over his remarks in parliament about the case.

Sagawa was head of the finance ministry department that oversaw the land deal, before being promoted past year to tax agency chief.

Some LDP members said the saga could undermine the party.

Abe, 63, swept back to power in December 2012 promising to revive the economy and bolster Japan's defense.

But a poll released published Monday in the Yomiuri Shimbun showed his support dropping by six percentage points from last month to 48 percent, the first reading under 50 percent since he won re-election in October. Non-support rose to 42 percent and 80 percent said that the matter had not been handled appropriately.

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